Kosovo Roma Refugees in Macedonia Protest
07 November 2002
On July 24, 2002, a letter addressed to UNHCR-Skopje issued by representatives of Kosovo Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian refugees demanded:
- The right to eventual collective return to their homes in Kosovo, including the right to property, compensation, protection from attacks, the just prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against Roma in Kosovo, education for their children in the language of their choice and equal health care and employment opportunities, or
- The right to refuge in safe third countries while the high incidence of racial violence against Roma in Kosovo continues; or, as a final option,
- Official recognition as refugees in Macedonia.
On July 29, 2002, between three and four hundred Kosovo Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian refugees from the Katlanovo Collective Centre in Skopje began a non-violent protest in front of UNHCR-Skopje, according to the research manager of the Skopje-based academic research centre Centre for Refugees and Forced Migration Studies (CRFMS – http://www.crfms.org.mk). According to the CRFMS research manager, the day after the protest began approximately two hundred Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptians from the Šuto Orizari Collective Centre in Skopje joined the protest. In the second, third and fourth weeks of protest, between two and three hundred Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptians from the collective centres reportedly participated every day, two thirds coming from the Šuto Orizari Collective Centre due to travel costs related to participating for those coming from the Katlanovo Collective Centre.
Since 1999, Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptians in the collective centres have been living in Macedonia with the status of "temporary protected people" (formerly called "temporarily humanitarian assisted persons"), a status that must be renewed every six months. Recently, at the end of September 2002, this status was again renewed, according to the CRFMS research manager. Conditions in the camps are substandard (for further information, see: Displaced Kosovo Roma in the region: an update ). As of the end of June 2002, one thousand five hundred and forty six Roma were registered as living in the Katlanovo and Šuto Orizari Collective Centres, while one thousand six hundred and thirty-one Romani refugees were staying with host families, the CRFMS research manager reported. A small number of Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian refugees had been resettled in the United States before the protest.
On July 31, 2002, the Kumanovo-based Romani organisation Drom informed the ERRC that a delegation of Romani representatives from the collective centres met with representatives of UNHCR-Skopje. Drom reported that UNHCR representatives avoided the topic of transferral to a safe third country for Roma in the centre and stated that they should apply for asylum status. In a statement issued publicly to the Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian refugees in July 2002, UNHCR stressed that Macedonia, as the first country of refuge, was responsible for providing protection against forcible return and as the risk that temporarily protected persons would have to move again had ended following the cessation of the conflict in Macedonia, it would not conduct new individual interviews for the possible moving of the refugees to another country. According to a September 9, 2002 report by Mr Djuljisen Musljija and Mr Gasnjani Muharem, local mediators, the protest ended on August 29, 2002, when UNHCR agreed to approach international political and humanitarian organisations to aid in the resolution of the situation of Kosovo Roma refugees in Macedonia. According to the CRFMS research manager, as of October 31, 2002, one thousand four hundred and ninety-one Roma refugees remained in the Katlanovo and Šuto Orizari Collective Centres and one thousand three hundred and sixty-eight were staying with host families. Among the number of Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptian refugees that have been resettled in the United States under the programme of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, an additional one Romani family (approximately five people) from the Šuto Orizari Collective Centre and four families (approximately 20 people) from the Katlanovo Collective Centre had reportedly recently moved to the U.S. as of November 4, 2002.